Dr. Rosie Shire in Pulse: “Doctors threaten legal action to halt ‘unlawful’ mass GP data extraction”

Doctors, including GPs, have threatened a legal challenge against the Government unless it reverses its ‘unlawful’ plan to carry out the ‘largest seizure of GP data in NHS history’. 

They warned the General Practice Data for Planning and Research (GPDPR) extraction planned for 1 July risked undermining patients’ trust in GPs.

This comes as Pulse revealed last month that privacy campaigners fear the new automatic extractions of data will be ‘far bigger’ and ‘more intrusive’ than the scrapped care.data project.

The Doctors Association UK (DAUK) and a Conservative MP are among signatories to a legal letter sent today (4 June) to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). 

It warned that unless the Government pauses the planned collection of patient data from practices – and seeks ‘meaningful patient consent’ – the group will seek an injunction to halt the scheme. 

Although patients have only until 23 June to opt out, there has been no public information campaign about the project, unlike the care.data plans that saw every household in England receive a leaflet about the planned changes in 2014.

Instead, the onus for informing patients about the GPDPR extraction has been placed on GP practices, which have to update their website privacy statements but have also been encouraged by NHS Digital to include information on social media, newsletters and other communications.

The coalition bringing the case said the ‘rushed process’ of launching the programme gives patients no meaningful chance to opt out, and excludes older people and others who may not be online. 

It added that this is being done ‘with no transparency or debate’, adding this violates patient trust, and that extracting the data without patient consent is ‘unlawful’. 

The letter also said that without patient consent, the process is unfair and likely to undermine people’s trust in their GPs, and called for the scheme to be paused and for patients to be properly informed and included in the process. 

The coalition bringing the case includes DAUK, the Citizens, openDemocracy and the National Pensioners Convention, as well as David Davis MP. 

They also set up a crowdfunding page, titled ‘Stop the NHS GP Data Grab’, to cover the cost of the legal claim, and have so far raised £550. 

DAUK GP adviser Dr Rosie Shire said: ‘GPs were barely informed of this major change – how are patients expected to know about it? DAUK supports safe, consensual uses of patient data, including for health research. But we want to see it done in a way that keeps faith with patient trust and won’t erode the relationship between clinician and doctor.  

‘Patients need to give informed consent to their data being used. We can’t see why the government won’t do this in a less rushed and more transparent way.’

Earlier this week, the RCGP warned that the job of informing the public about the impending mass extraction of patient data ‘must not be left to busy GPs’ while they are in the midst of ‘extreme workload pressure’ and focusing on the Covid pandemic.

GPs in some parts of England, including East London, have also been urged not to allow the NHS Digital data extraction, even though this is technically against the law.